Hovhaness: Cello Concerto; Symphony No. 22 (City of Light)

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COMPOSERS: Hovhaness
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Symphony No. 22 (City of Light)
PERFORMER: János Starker (cello); Seattle Symphony/ Dennis Russell Davies, Alan Hovhaness
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559158
Alan Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 22 of 1971, recorded in 1992 and previously issued (and reissued) on Delos, is in the composer’s familiar vein of simple melodies over sustained modal harmonies decorated by little splashes of light, alternating with stretches of chorale and fugue, but all in a predominantly slow tempo. In its general effect, it resembles Vaughan Williams’s contemplative Fifth Symphony, but it lacks that work’s strong contrasts and, truth be told, its melodic distinction. The composer conducts an authoritative performance, in the slightly cramped acoustic of the Seattle Center Opera House. The Cello Concerto of 1936 is one of the few works to survive Hovhaness’s purge of hundreds of his early compositions; but it was not performed until 1975, and this previously unreleased 1999 recording is its premiere on disc. Consisting of two substantial slow movements flanking a short, pretty scherzo, it shows most of the characteristics of the composer’s maturity already well established in his mid-twenties – including a fondness for Oriental-sounding melodies, on flute as well as on the solo cello. The veteran János Starker, impeccable and expressive as ever, takes the lead in a sympathetic performance, well recorded in the Seattle Symphony’s own Benaroya Hall. Anthony Burton